A strange world, a haunting stranger, a terrible choice...
Malevolent follows Arkham Investigator Arthur Lester as he unravels the mysterious circumstances that have befallen him.
In this, the Thirteenth part of our tale, a strange and terrible world lays before Arthur. The horrors of which are unfathomable to even the most practiced mind. The choices that lay before are numerous and uncompromising. The path ahead is unknown but finding a way out is the only way to survive... If you are enjoying this Podcast, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter to receive all Chapters as they are completed as well as the choices that you, the listener, get to make.
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PART THIRTEEN - THE DREAMLANDS
Original transcript by Croik and Jack! Reviewed by Jack.
(BEGIN Part 13.)
(Over the sound of waves, Arthur grunts in exertion. He starts to walk through sand.)
ARTHUR: Where exactly are we? I hear… waves.
JOHN: Yes. We’re on a blackened coast. (Arthur continues to walk.) Beyond us, a violet lake of jagged rocks. (Apologetically.) Arthur, I –
ARTHUR: Do better than that, John. What exactly are the Dreamlands? This is important. Explain to me all you can see.
(A new piano tune plays: high and eerie.)
JOHN (sighing): A soft purple glow emanates from the sky above, that stretches as far as the eye can see. The dark, mountainous range that surrounds the lake before us claws at the sky as if trying to escape the lands. The sand here is black, like crushed coal, and seems to cling to your pants.
ARTHUR: We’re still wearing our clothes, then.
JOHN: Yes, it seems like everything we had – you had is still here.
ARTHUR: We had.
JOHN: Right. Trees surround this lake, though they don’t look natural. Dark-wood - jagged, hook-like limbs hang loosely from the trees, as if they’re dragging their knuckles. All is dim here, Arthur. All feels cold and lifeless, as if the sun never fully rises... and yet.
ARTHUR: And yet I can feel things seething around us.
JOHN: Yes. As if hiding.
(Thunder booms in the distance.)
ARTHUR: We should find cover from the rain. If it even is rain.
(Rain starts to fall. Arthur trudges along the sand, now wet.)
JOHN: The dark wood to our backs should do.
JOHN (earnest): Arthur…?
ARTHUR (quickly): When we have a moment, John.
JOHN (insolent): No! (He exhales, then goes quieter.) No. Not in a moment. Now.
JOHN: I had no choice.
JOHN: You don’t under –
ARTHUR: If you wanna tell me you’re sorry, okay. I forgive you. Honestly, it all shook out with me still here, so I’m willing to move past this. But don’t you for a fucking second, pretend you had no choice.
JOHN: Fine. I did have a choice.
ARTHUR: You’re damn right you did.
JOHN: And I chose to become whole once again, without understanding what it would mean, not entirely.
ARTHUR: Ha! Don’t make me laugh.
JOHN: But that wasn’t the only choice I made. (Thunder booms.) We’re at the trees.
ARTHUR: Fine. We’re fine here.
(Arthur continues to walk amidst the rain. More piano music: gentle, faintly surreal.)
ARTHUR: So you didn’t know what would happen.
JOHN: No, I didn’t. When I looked into that mirror, I saw myself. (Loud thunderclap.) For the first time in… I guess I don’t know how long – I saw what I was… or… what I had been.
ARTHUR: What you are.
JOHN: No. Not what I am. What I was – what I could be, maybe. But not what I am. Don’t you get it? That’s what was wrong.
ARTHUR: So you not remembering, you being from the Dark World... bullshit?
JOHN: No. I really didn’t remember any of that, but I do remember what happened.
(The rain grows louder.)
JOHN: Move further in, Arthur, it’s starting to rain heavy.
(Arthur moves forward. He sighs curtly.)
JOHN: I remember some, not all. I remember what the man said, about being severed. I remember… wait. (Arthur stops walking.) To your right. I think I see something. Yes! There’s a building.
ARTHUR: A building?
JOHN: Stone. The roof even looks like it could be metal.
JOHN: Straight ahead. Left! Around this tree.
(He moves forward.)
ARTHUR: So, being severed.
JOHN: Yes. I remember exiting into your world… our world. And people were...
ARTHUR: Hold on, how far away is it?
JOHN: Just ahead. Maybe we should crouch, wait to see if there’s movement.
ARTHUR (grunting in exertion): Alright, continue.
(A slower, mysterious piano tune.)
JOHN: I entered in through a portal that was opened by others. It was a powerful ritual, though one not meant for me. It was opportunity. When I took it, I found that there were men fighting on the other side and a few women as well, the ritual having just taken place.
ARTHUR: Anything yet?
JOHN: No. Keep waiting. (Arthur exhales.) I was using it as a chance to enter the world. Properly. Whole. But something went wrong. One of the people there... a woman, grabbed a book. One used to house another being entirely – Shub Niggurath – and she tried to trap me inside it. Only part of me was bound to it, however. Half of my soul was trapped here, in the Dreamlands, half bound in that book.
ARTHUR: And the Dark World?
JOHN: It was where I stayed until you opened the book and cursed yourself. I think we’re safe, nothing has stirred in awhile.
(Arthur stands, grunting.)
JOHN: Straight ahead.
(He starts to walk.)
ARTHUR: Is there a door?
JOHN: No, just a passageway leading in. (Thunder booms, tree squeaks.) Everything here is so dark. It’s difficult to see, but straight ahead and you’ll feel it, around the wall.
(He continues, occasionally grunting in exertion. The rain quiets.)
JOHN: This is a small, stone shack. The walls are carved gray stone and the roof looks like some sort of iron but it’s a deep red, unlike any I’ve seen. There’s a pile of rotting wood in the corner. A dirty fur bed as well.
JOHN: The likes of which I’ve never seen before. There’s also a large hole dug in the center. I don’t know why. The corners are rather dim. Let’s just stay in the doorway.
ARTHUR: It’ll do till the rain passes.
JOHN: I think it should.
(Arthur grunts and sits down.)
ARTHUR: So you remembered all that: everything that made you The King in Yellow.
JOHN: Yes, and… the eons I had lived before.
ARTHUR (exhale): I must’ve seemed very insignificant against all that.
JOHN: Yes, all at once I saw the truth: how meaningless your existence was.
ARTHUR (offended/amused): I take it back! I don’t forgive you.
JOHN: Listen to me. Yes. Your life is meaningless. If you are going to die, no matter whether it’s today or tomorrow or ten years from now, then how do you matter?
(Faroe’s Song starts to play.)
JOHN: As the King In Yellow, I was not hostile towards your kind – I was indifferent. I did not hate or despise you, no more than you despise an ant. You are meaningless.
(Arthur scoffs at him.)
JOHN: But... it was in that time in the hospital, that month alone. Trapped in this body without you, when something changed.
ARTHUR (skeptical): You found humanity?
JOHN: I found meaning. I found that the challenges of life within the boundaries of death were not only acceptable, but could be meaningful. That without a purpose I could forge my own. Is that humanity?
ARTHUR: I truly don’t know.
JOHN: When I became whole again, I felt the power of my old self, along with my indifference, but I had brought something else with me: meaning.
ARTHUR: So could you not find meaning in your desire to become whole? To join this world?
JOHN: The King perhaps could have, yes. But I am not him. Not anymore. And I had already found my purpose. For him to divorce it from me was too difficult.
ARTHUR (sighing): He spoke to me. The King. He said you were... entangled. That to separate us was too difficult. That you lost your way.
JOHN: He’s correct.
ARTHUR: He also said he’d kill me, and reclaim you.
(The music fades.)
JOHN (intent): Let him try.
ARTHUR (standing, grunting): I appreciate that confidence but I’m not keen to let him.
JOHN: You’re right. For now, we have a single purpose: to find a way out of the Dreamlands and back into our reality. There is no safety from him here.
ARTHUR: No, there isn’t.
(He takes a single step.)
ARTHUR: So you don’t know anything about this domain?
JOHN: The things I remember were more or less personal. It wouldn’t be useful. We don’t even know which direction to head, let alone which might be north.
ARTHUR: Or if north is even a direction in this world. (He scoffs.) When I briefly visited this place during the month I was in a coma, it was more visceral than I could even comprehend. We need to be diligent.
JOHN: It would be beneficial to have a weapon.
ARTHUR (moving forward): Is there anything in here we can use?
JOHN: Hm. In the corner, to your left. (Arthur moves, grunting.) Yes, there! Arthur, there’s a small box here.
ARTHUR: Well, might as well see if there’s anything of value.
(He flips open the box.)
JOHN: There seems to be a small ornate necklace here. It looks to be made of beads, only their texture is… dried. Organic.
JOHN (excited): And a knife!
ARTHUR (pleased): Oh, brilliant!
JOHN: Are you sure you want to take from whomever’s house this is?
ARTHUR: I’m sure whoever left it here has departed long ago.
JOHN: Only… the blood on the knife is still wet.
ARTHUR: I suppose I don’t want to start off by pilfering the first home we find. (Thunder booms.) It may look abandoned, but we don’t know what creatures exist here. Let’s just leave it.
JOHN: I think that’s probably a smart call.
ARTHUR (sighing): Anyway, let’s leave this place.
(Arthur leaves the home. Trees creak around him.)
JOHN: There doesn’t seem to be a direction that speaks strongly to a correct way.
ARTHUR: We don’t even have a destination; what are we heading towards?
JOHN: I don’t know, but staying here is the wrong option. The King brought us here to kill you, so he must know roughly where we arrived.
ARTHUR: I think acting on that assumption is the smartest decision, regardless of whether it’s true or not. Let’s move.
JOHN: No preference as to where?
ARTHUR: This building, does it have any natural path leading towards it? Any sign of foot traffic?
JOHN: None that I can see.
ARTHUR: Then let’s just move away from the water – opposite direction.
JOHN: Deeper into the woods, then.
(Arthur continues to walk. Again, trees creak and crack around him in an unnatural fashion.)
JOHN: These trees are alien to say the least.
ARTHUR: How so?
JOHN: The bark on them is black as night, yet lines of deep purple lay beneath. This world, Arthur, it truly lives up to its name. Even the leaves look off. The ground beneath them is a dark red, as if the dirt here is stained with a millennia of blood.
ARTHUR: I can feel the trees around us. It almost feels like they’re whispering to each other. Talking about us.
JOHN: I hope they have nice things to say.
ARTHUR: Our purpose has changed, as you’ve said. Our goal is no longer to unravel this mystery, but instead it’s become one of survival.
ARTHUR (exhale): Time to put my Brigade training to the test. (He chuckles to himself.)
ARTHUR: No, nothing like that. Ah. (Soft piano music plays.) When I was a boy, I was part of the Boys' Brigade: an organization that promoted the habits of obedience, reverence, discipline and self-respect. Really, it was just a group of boys running around playing war.
ARTHUR: For all its good intentions, it made me feel very… used?
ARTHUR: I suppose some enjoy that type of obedience: strict rules and a sense of purpose. Tenets that, though meant to exemplify a certain set of values we’re meant to have, only made me feel... frustrated.
JOHN: That’s fair.
ARTHUR: In the end, I suppose it gave me a set of skills I still use, so it wasn’t all bad. Anyway, all that is to say is that we spent time out, learning some survival skills. Hope some of them come back to me. You know? (A branch snaps.) John? John.
JOHN: Quiet. I think something is following us.
ARTHUR (whispered): What?
JOHN: Get down. (Arthur does so.) I thought I heard something moving behind us. It’s become increasingly difficult to see. (Quietly in the background, a cluster of whispers persist.) Whatever light lay in the sky only illuminates a fraction of what I can view.
(Eerie music plays.)
ARTHUR (whispering): We can just take a moment and wait.
JOHN: I don’t know if it’s day or night or if those terms even apply, but that violet light that once filled the sky has turned to red. A bright crimson, burning fire that is moving across the sky with some speed, but still slow enough to trick my eye into thinking the shadows that move with the light are alive.
ARTHUR (whispering): Maybe they are.
JOHN: If that’s true, then we’re in real trouble. I think it was just the light playing tricks. We should keep moving.
(Arthur moves to stand.)
ARTHUR: So the sky is red now?
JOHN: It had been green when we were in the building as well. It – it seems like maybe there are many stars shining light on this world. Some seem farther away, like the violet one, making it near impossible to see anything.
ARTHUR: I can’t deny as terrifying as all that sounds, it also causes my mind to race with questions.
(Another twig snaps. Suspenseful music rises.)
JOHN: Save them for now. I do think something is following us. There’s a fallen tree to the right. It’s leaning over a gray stone outcropping. Quickly!
(Arthur moves forward, rustling along the underbrush and grunting.)
JOHN: Turn to your right, let me watch.
(The whispers still persist. The trees continue to creak.)
JOHN: I don’t know.
ARTHUR (exhale): These trees are so loud.
JOHN: The trunks are bare until the first branches, maybe ten feet up. It makes the woods easy to navigate but gives an odd feeling, as if the woods were a place of worship.
ARTHUR: You mentioned their branches hung low: like knuckles, though?
JOHN: Yes, the branches hang off and stretch out like a willow tree, but think more jagged and thick. They’re bare save large thorns. (He pauses.) Whatever is following us isn’t moving now.
ARTHUR: You’re sure it’s not just the trees?
JOHN: I… I don’t know. I don’t think so. The shadows are always moving with the red sun, it’s impossible to see anything for certain. We’ll keep moving, but we may need to fight.
JOHN: I’ll be watching the treeline.
(He moves forward.)
JOHN: Anyway, what were you saying?
ARTHUR: I-I have no idea – it doesn’t matter. Let’s just get out of these woods, okay?
JOHN: You want to go back?
ARTHUR: No, just… keep moving, look for a way out maybe.
JOHN: Alright. (Something larger snaps.) Wait, look back!
(Louder footfalls through the trees, rustling the underbrush as it goes.)
JOHN: I see it. Arthur… run!
ARTHUR (whispering): What?
(Arthur starts to run amidst chase music, panting as he does.)
JOHN: The sun is – Arthur! Move to the right, quickly, there’s a large trunk. Hide! Here! Stand back.
ARTHUR: I –
JOHN: Get ready. A new light is growing in the sky, bright blue. It’s moving quickly, but it’s bright enough that the shadows are disappearing. When I tell you, step out. We’re going to fight.
(The footsteps approach.)
ARTHUR: Okay… okay… Are you?
JOHN: Arthur, we can’t outrun it. We need to fight if we want any chance.
ARTHUR (a scared sniff): Oh!
JOHN: Ready… and….
STRANGER (out of nowhere): Why do you follow me?
(Both Arthur and John gasp in shock, breathing heavily. Arthur fumbles among the underbrush.)
STRANGER (scraggly voice): Why do you follow?
JOHN: Arthur, it’s a creature, a man, maybe. (The stranger grunts.) He’s… five feet, hunched over with a large bag on his back. He wears a cowl hiding the upper half of his face. Only his lower jaw is exposed as he talks. (The stranger grunts again.) It moves with odd articulation.
STRANGER (amidst creaking noises): I am no man, and I am not odd.
ARTHUR: We’re not following you.
JOHN (in amazement): Can you hear me?
STRANGER: I hear you.
ARTHUR: You can hear the voice in my head?
STRANGER: No voice in your head. Two appear before me.
ARTHUR: I’m sorry, we don’t mean to harm you. (The man grunts.) We want no trouble.
STRANGER: Leave this place.
STRANGER: This place is not yours.
ARTHUR: Which place? You mean the woods?
STRANGER: This dream. You belong elsewhere.
JOHN: He knows that we’re not from here.
STRANGER: I know many things.
ARTHUR: Wait. (The stranger grunts.) You know many things? About this place?
JOHN: He’s looking up towards the blue starlight which is fading fast.
STRANGER: The light won’t last.
ARTHUR: When will it be light again?
STRANGER: Many stars bring light.
JOHN: How many stars that light the sky are there?
STRANGER: Many. Stop following me.
ARTHUR: Wait! We need help.
STRANGER: I am not a cana. I do not help.
ARTHUR: What do you do?
STRANGER: What brings me purpose?
TRADER: I trade.
ARTHUR: Well – maybe we can trade something with you. What do you have to offer?
TRADER: I don’t offer. You offer, and I trade.
JOHN: You want us to offer you something first, before you offer a trade?
TRADER: Yes. Offer, and I’ll trade.
JOHN: He’s tapping the large bag on his back, Arthur. I think we need to offer something.
ARTHUR: We need information. What should we offer?
JOHN: It’s your call, Arthur. What do we have?
(Arthur starts to rummage through his bag. Plastic clicks.)
ARTHUR: The lighter, which we don’t want to lose.
ARTHUR: Those books we found in the caves beneath the island.
JOHN: They could still hold some valuable information.
ARTHUR: Very true. Ah, we have our… wallet.
ARTHUR: The pallid mask.
ARTHUR: The gun is…?
JOHN: We lost the gun back in the hotel when falling down the chute.
ARTHUR: Right. Oh, this egg-like stone we found.
JOHN: Are you sure?
ARTHUR: Yes. (To the trader.) Here.
ARTHUR: Here. We’d like to offer you this.
TRADER: Hmph. They offer this. (He grunts.) It is valued. I accept.
ARTHUR: Valued by how much?
TRADER: A Crystallizer of Dreams is not an insignificant trade.
ARTHUR: A Crystallizer of Dreams?
JOHN: What does it do? (The trader rustles.)
TRADER: They do not know.
ARTHUR: Help us find –
TRADER: I am not a cana.
ARTHUR: Okay, you’re not a cana, but... you have this item now, we traded it. So. What did it do?
TRADER: It views places faraway in dreams.
JOHN: Like back to where we came from?
(A mysterious piano melody plays.)
TRADER: Farther. When used properly, it also lets things travel.
ARTHUR: Travel. Where?
TRADER: Between worlds.
JOHN (whispering): What?
ARTHUR: H-h-hold on, this would let us travel back home…?
TRADER: No. Items only.
JOHN: Still, Arthur. This may have been a bad call.
ARTHUR: This would’ve let us bring items from the Dreamlands back to our world?
TRADER: They do not know what they offer. Foolish.
ARTHUR: Well, how could we know we…
JOHN: Arthur, he’s pulling the back from his back. It’s got large branches sticking out of it as if he’s carrying bundles of them. I still can’t see his eyes under the hood, but his skin looks like the bark of trees.
(The trader pulls the bag off his back; it hits the ground with a thud. He rummages through it, amidst tree creaking, metal clinking, and other objects.)
JOHN: He’s unraveling the roll. Oh. There are a number of odd-looking objects.
ARTHUR: Like what?
JOHN: I see a-a glass jar of some liquid. It’s very small and the liquid is violet, I think. (The trader continues to rustle his belongings.) The sun is still changing the colors. There’s a lamp, like an oil lamp... and a-a scroll.
TRADER: A map.
ARTHUR: A map! Yes. We’ll take the map.
TRADER: You offer, I trade.
ARTHUR (displeased): Jesus.
JOHN: He’s searching, deciding. His hands are made of woods, his fingers look like the branches of trees. (Metal clangs.) As he searches between the items, picking one up and setting it back down, I can hear the twigs snapping within. (The trader growls in acknowledgement.) He’s grabbed… a shard of glass.
ARTHUR: Ah –
TRADER: The trade is complete.
ARTHUR: Hold on, I…
(The trader starts to pull his belongings together.)
JOHN: The glass is oddly shaped, almost more like a piece of ice. It’s rounded on the corners, and it gives off an odd discoloration. Hues of violet and blue within.
ARTHUR: I can feel it, it’s, it’s soft almost, but – this is not a fair trade!
TRADER: The trade is fair.
TRADER: They do not know.
ARTHUR: No we don’t! That’s why we wanted information, not a fucking piece of glass!
(The trader growls. He creaks in a much more ominous way amidst rising tension-filled music.)
JOHN (warning): Arthur, this creature suddenly looks a lot more menacing in the fading light. Let’s tread carefully.
ARTHUR (earnest): Please, just... tell us what it is.
TRADER: The trade is fair. The glass is of Leng. Use glass as you would and you will know.
(The trader starts to walk into the distance.)
JOHN: He’s moving quickly now, and looking up at the sky.
ARTHUR: Do you at least know a way out of the woods?
TRADER: There is no way out of the wood. You will leave when it wants you to. (Pause. Whispers rise.) The dark comes.
JOHN: The light is fading quickly. Black lines crawl across the trunks of trees as they stretch out across the forest.
ARTHUR: We’ve been in the dark before?
TRADER: Not like this. Do not move, do not make a sound. They are hungry. Luck isn’t with you.
JOHN: He’s moving down to the forest floor… his cloak spreading, as if he’s entering water.
ARTHUR: Hold on!
(The trader rustles among the underbrush.)
JOHN: The wood and stick which make up his coak seem to dissolve against the floor. It’s as if he’s moving into sand.
ARTHUR (frustrated): Just wait! What did you mean?
JOHN: He’s gone, Arthur. (Arthur sighs in frustration. The trees continue to creak.) It’s getting very dark, very fast.
ARTHUR: What did he mean, ‘they are hungry’?
(A creature roars in the distance. Arthur starts to pant in fright.)
(Suspenseful music rises.)
ARTHUR: We need to hide. Now. Tell me there’s something nearby.
JOHN: It’s the woods. We can try a tree, or a fallen log. The light is almost gone.
ARTHUR: The fallen log.
JOHN: To our left!
(Arthur moves quickly through underbrush.)
(Whispers rise as Arthur shoves himself next to a fallen log.)
JOHN (as if in awe): It’s complete black now, Arthur. I can’t see anything. It is utter darkness.
(Quick footsteps, from a distance. A beast roars, moose-like. John and Arthur both gasp. A flutter of insect wings. Something scampering by – and back again – and back again. A creature hisses, lumbers closer, and bites the flying creature. It chews noisily and walks away. Quieter sounds of the forest continue amidst Arthur’s panicked breathing.)
JOHN: The light is very, very slowly growing, Arthur. I think I see a way out of the woods, but… I’m not sure. If we wait, they may find us, or we can run for the edge of the wood now. Which do you want to do?
ARTHUR (whispering): We’re staying put.
JOHN: All right.
(Tense violins rise. A winged creature flies past. John and Arthur gasp quietly as big, lumbering footsteps pass. A creature calls, and then they both exhale in relief.)
JOHN: Arthur, the sun is rising again. The creatures are departing.
ARTHUR (exhaling): God damn it. (Grunting, he stands.)
JOHN: We didn’t run.
JOHN: I think that was the right call. The direction now in the morning light. (A twig snaps.) It doesn’t seem like an exit at all. The light… must’ve been playing tricks.
ARTHUR: It’s these woods. (Quiet, eerie piano music.) You heard the trader. Something about them. They’re... alive. What were those things?
JOHN: The light did bloom slightly in the darkness. I could see only one in silhouette. They were... smooth, their skin featureless, almost like that of whales. They carried themselves like a man would, but their bodies were long and slender.
JOHN: Human… like. They had horns: tall, slender, curving horns and leathery bat-like wings.
JOHN: When it turned… I can’t be sure, but… their faces looked… devoid of any features.
ARTHUR: They sound like hell spawn. Satanic demons from the depths of hell.
(He walks forward.)
JOHN (realizing): Ah. Religion.
JOHN: I assume by the amount you tend to say ‘Jesus Christ’, that you’re not religious.
ARTHUR: Only when I need to be.
JOHN: When is that?
ARTHUR (sighing): When I’m out of options. Same as everyone else. So.
ARTHUR: No sign of the trader?
ARTHUR: Hm. Seems like we have a riddle to solve.
JOHN: Seems so.
ARTHUR: He said something like: the woods will let you leave when they want you to.
JOHN (sarcastic): Ask nicely?
ARTHUR (scoffing): I don’t think so.
JOHN: When do the woods want you to leave?.
ARTHUR: I don’t know. Is there anything around, any sign of life? Hell, is there any way even to tell where we came from, which direction we were heading?
JOHN: No. We got turned around to say the least.
ARTHUR: Okay. Okay. (He starts to walk.) Hm. Let’s just head in a direction for now. Seems like night has passed, or whatever that was.
JOHN: Yes, in fact the sun now looks even more like that of Earth. (Mysterious music rises.) It’s also just barely past the horizon. The woods, now without the tint of astral light, are full and bright. Lone trees stand feet apart, their black limbs hanging down. They still look just as alien as before but the ground seems more trustworthy.
(He starts to walk.)
ARTHUR (curious): So you know who Jesus Christ is?
JOHN: I do.
ARTHUR: You know, I’ve never outright asked, but I don’t understand how you know all these things. If you are the King in Yellow, what reason do you have to know half the things you do?
JOHN: Such as?
ARTHUR: Little things. Taxis, money, streets, names, you-you seem to be as well versed in the world as I am.
JOHN: I think a lot of that is a result of sharing a mind.
ARTHUR: You mean…?
JOHN: I mean to say that I feel a vague understanding of the world as you see it.
ARTHUR: You’ve always felt this?
JOHN: Always? Not counting the month you were in a coma, we’ve known each other for a few days. But yes, I suppose there are some muscle memories that I absorbed. Much like the way I control this hand.
ARTHUR: I guess that makes sense, and I guess you’re right. I forget sometimes it’s only been a short while. It’s been so long since I could see… feels like it’s always been this way.
JOHN: Don’t start spiraling now.
ARTHUR: No, no, I’m – I’m not. In fact I can’t imagine what it would be like for people who cannot see without the aid of... a being like you.
(A gentle tune plays in the background.)
JOHN: I’ll take that as an awkwardly worded compliment.
ARTHUR: I just mean to say that it would be lonely.
JOHN: These woods look lonely.
ARTHUR: Do they? (Musing.) Hm. That reminds me of an old fable, or an allegory, I suppose. ‘As the woodcutter brought the axe back into the woods, the trees whispered, “At least the handle is one of us.”’’
JOHN: The forest contributing to its own demise in a small way.
ARTHUR: Tree by tree.
(He stops walking.)
JOHN: There’s something ahead, along the ground. Just wait for a moment. Crouch down.
(The underbrush rustles.)
JOHN: It’s not moving. I think it may be dead.
ARTHUR (whispering): Last time we thought something was nearly dead, a spider attacked us.
JOHN: I don’t see anything around us.
ARTHUR: Or above?
JOHN: Or beneath.
ARTHUR: Let’s just tread softly. (He grunts and starts to move forward.)
JOHN: Just ahead.
JOHN: Here, here. The ground seems fine.
JOHN: It’s a creature, of some sort, but I can’t quite make out what. It’s been partially devoured. Torn in two – this actually may only be half of it.
ARTHUR: From the flying creatures?
JOHN: Yes, I’m not sure if it’s native to this forest or something they picked out of the sky. It may have had wings.
ARTHUR: Great, well, does it help any?
ARTHUR: Okay. Well let’s keep heading in the same direction. We’ll see where that gets us, and then…
JOHN: If night falls again.
ARTHUR: If night falls again, we’ll hide and hope whatever those things were stay busy.
(Something squishy squirms on the ground.)
(A surreal piano tune plays.)
JOHN: The corpse. It’s moving.
ARTHUR: Oh, fuck.
JOHN: There seems to be movement along its surface as if… as if something is growing.
ARTHUR: Let’s leave.
JOHN: It’s… Arthur, I can see something growing out of the dead flesh of the creature. From its innards.
ARTHUR: It’s not from the forest floor?
JOHN: Maybe, but it’s definitely emerging within the creature, pushing through its open stomach.
(The sounds continue.)
JOHN (in awe): Arthur. It’s a sapling. It’s growing rapidly. It’s already a few centimeters tall.
ARTHUR: The tree is growing from the dead creature?
JOHN: What’s more is the forest floor seems to be enveloping the creature. Step back!
(Arthur quickly moves away.)
JOHN: Arthur, this forest. It’s alive.
ARTHUR: It’s eating that dead thing?
(The sound of squishing continues, as well as the occasional crack and chew.)
ARTHUR (disconcerted): Let’s keep moving.
JOHN (quiet): Okay.
(Arthur walks. The sound of squishing fades.)
ARTHUR: Do you think all these trees are a result of the same type of thing?
JOHN: You mean to ask if all these trees grew from corpses?
ARTHUR: M-maybe? I don’t know. This is a plane of reality we literally have no experience with. Every flower could be deadly, every lion could be a friend.
JOHN: In which case I’d say yes, that could be the case.
ARTHUR: We need to get out of here. (He stops.) I suppose it’s fruitless to ask if you see anything?
JOHN: At least the axe is one of us.
ARTHUR: Is that a no, then?
JOHN: Sorry, yes. No, there’s nothing. The axe handle is one of them.
(He continues to walk.)
ARTHUR: Yes, it’s just an old saying about being the cause of your own demise, I suppose.
JOHN: But the woods are lonely. They welcome their old friend back into the woods, despite his intentions.
ARTHUR: Yes. So?
JOHN: I mentioned earlier these woods looked lonely.
ARTHUR: You want to give them something?
JOHN: Perhaps we can help them grow their numbers. Maybe that’s what the woods need.
ARTHUR: Well, I’m not planning on dying here, if that’s what you’re suggesting.
JOHN: No, but… that was half of a creature that spawned a tree.
(Arthur stops walking. Suspenseful music rises.)
ARTHUR: H-hold on. W-what are you saying? You think we should leave a… a what? A piece of us here? In the woods? You’re fucked. (Whispers rise.)
JOHN: Arthur, consider what happens if…
ARTHUR (aghast): No! I’m not considering it. (The trees whisper ‘yes’.) Because it’s fucking insane, John.
JOHN: They don’t want to suffer alone.
ARTHUR: It was a fucking allegory, John, not an advocacy for self-mutilation.
JOHN: You said yourself we don’t understand the rules of this world, let alone these woods.
ARTHUR: Okay, let’s just say for a moment I’m considering this. W-w-what do you suggest? I rip off my own ear?
JOHN: No, Arthur, I’m trying to…
ARTHUR (annoyed): Well, what are you doing then? Cause it seems like you’re trying to get us to seriously maim ourselves.
JOHN (exhale): You’re right. I’ll drop it.
(Arthur exhales and continues to walk.)
ARTHUR (weary): I’m sorry, I-I’m blaming you for a... crazy, fucking idea but I know you’re not wrong in considering it. This isn’t our world. The rules here are well beyond what we can comprehend. (He exhales.) You think that the woods are looking to be, what, less lonely?
JOHN: I don’t know, but if a wood exists because of its numbers, and grows with each fallen creature, perhaps leaving a tree is the only way.
ARTHUR: A trade, almost.
(The whispers from the trees rise again. They whisper ‘yes’.)
ARTHUR: You realize if you’re wrong, I maim myself for nothing.
JOHN: We. And yes.
ARTHUR (exhale): S-So what would we even… we don’t have a knife.
ARTHUR: I mean I… I suppose, with enough force… I could – I could bite off the tip of our pinky. On our left hand.
JOHN: I suppose.
ARTHUR (breathless): Jesus fucking Christ, are we seriously considering this?
JOHN: I suppose we are.
ARTHUR: Th-there’s no going back. We’re not gonna get this back if this doesn’t work.
JOHN: I know. Maybe it’s not worth it. This is entirely your decision.
ARTHUR (sighing): J-just give me a second. Fuck. (Deadpan.) Entirely my decision, eh?
JOHN: Look, Arthur, let’s just keep walking. There’s no reason to decide right this instant, in any case.
ARTHUR: Except we don’t truly know what time it is or what the likelihood of those creatures returning is.
JOHN: We hid from them before.
ARTHUR: We got lucky before.
JOHN: So what are you saying?
ARTHUR: I’m saying that… maybe… maybe you’re right, and that… (The trees whisper, amidst enigmatic piano music.) Leaving a piece of us here is the only way to leave. (TREES: Yes.) No waiting or walking will change that. There’s no more evidence that we could collect. We’ve seen a dead thing… feed the woods, and from it, a new tree grew.
ARTHUR: The question is whether or not that’s what the woods want. (TREES: Yes.) But regardless, that doesn’t mean this is going to be easy. We don’t have… we don’t have any way to stop the bleeding. I mean, it will eventually clot, but… Jesus.
ARTHUR: No, nothing. Just.
JOHN: Are you really going to do this?
ARTHUR: Yes. That realization is just, ah… it’s a lot. But I’ve already lost a lot. I don’t know if I’ve come to terms with the realization that I may never get my sight back or if this is just because I can’t feel this hand but… wait. Do you feel it?
ARTHUR: So when I bite through...
JOHN: I’ll be feeling everything.
ARTHUR (apologetic): Oh, John, I –
JOHN: It’s okay, Arthur. If anything, I’m glad that we both share the difficult part.
ARTHUR: Okay, well, if... you’re on board with this.
JOHN: I have to be.
ARTHUR: Right, well. After… you know, I can wrap it. Fairly well in some cloth from our shirt, but... it’ll take awhile to stop the bleeding. We don’t have a needle or thread, so our options are limited.
JOHN: In so far as…
ARTHUR: In so far as that we have one that I can think of. Cauterizing the wound.
ARTHUR: If we heat a piece of metal with the lighter until it is hot enough, then it should… in theory, close the wound when I press it to it. It’ll help the bleeding, but…
JOHN: I know the but.
ARTHUR (quiet): Yes. Well, this one is your choice, I think.
JOHN: For time untold, I’ve caused suffering to others. I’d call this penance.
ARTHUR: Who’s the religious one now?
JOHN: Do you have any metal, though?
ARTHUR: Ah… oh! Belt buckle.
(Metal clink. Arthur pulls out his belt.)
(He flicks the lighter on.)
ARTHUR: So you do remember hurting people, then?
JOHN (tired): Arthur.
ARTHUR: I’m just… curious.
JOHN: Call it embracing my human side, but I’ve learned that I can choose what I want to remember. No different than you.
(Faroe’s Song plays.)
ARTHUR: You think I can choose what to remember?
JOHN: Maybe a better way to say it is you can choose what to forget.
ARTHUR: No. You can never forget. Not through sheer will.
JOHN: Your daughter.
ARTHUR: My daughter.
JOHN: Is she still alive?
ARTHUR (warning): John.
JOHN: Well, I can choose what not to talk about, then.
ARTHUR: Fair enough.
(The suspenseful strings intermix with Faroe’s song.)
ARTHUR: But what?
JOHN: I am here, if you ever want to talk.
ARTHUR: Maybe, one day. For now? (He flicks the lighter again.) This is what’s happening.
(The piano fades out, but the strings stay. The trees whisper ‘yes’.)
JOHN (scared): How bad will it...?
ARTHUR: Very bad.
ARTHUR: But… this too shall pass.
(Arthur bites down on his finger with a crunch. John grunts in extreme pain. He pulls the rest of the finger off with his teeth and spits it on the ground.)
JOHN (growling): Fucking hell. (Arthur spits.)
ARTHUR: Now for the tough part. (The clinking of metal.)
JOHN: Ngh! Damn it! (He continues to growl.)
ARTHUR: You okay? (John growls in response.) How does it look?
JOHN: Bad. But I think the cauterizing stopped the bleeding, so.
ARTHUR (encouraging): Good. You did good, John. Well done.
JOHN (genuine): Thank you.
ARTHUR: The tip? Anything?
JOHN: On the ground. Crouch down.
(Arthur does so with a grunt.)
JOHN: I’m watching.
ARTHUR: C’mon, you fucking… (He spits onto the ground.)
JOHN (relieved): Arthur, the ground is moving around it.
ARTHUR (thrilled): Yes!
JOHN: The woods are eating it hungrily.
JOHN: Already I see small, vein-like roots wrapping themselves around the piece of you.
ARTHUR: Ah. Ugh, I feel light-headed.
JOHN: I see the skin begin to break and... from within, a bud begins to bloom. (The trees whisper.)
ARTHUR: I need to sit.
(He does so, rustling against the undergrowth.)
JOHN: Are you okay?
ARTHUR: Yes, just… woozy.
JOHN: Arthur, the trees around us are… singing.
(An odd squishing sound. Suspenseful music rises.)
ARTHUR: I can hear them. They sound… happy.
(Something crunches. John growls in pain again.)
ARTHUR (alarmed): John?
JOHN: Fuck! (He continues to make noises of pain.)
ARTHUR: What’s happening?
JOHN (growling): A-Arthur!
JOHN: Our hand, it’s on the forest floor – the wound, they’re eating it.
ARTHUR (flabbergasted): What!?
JOHN (groaning): God damn it, there’s a piece of wood sticking out of the wound.
ARTHUR: Jesus. Can we pull it?
JOHN (in agony): No!
ARTHUR: Okay, okay, okay.
JOHN: It’s embedded in.
JOHN: Like the head of an arrow. (ARTHUR: Oh.) I can feel it, ugh.
ARTHUR: The woods?
JOHN: The piece in our hand, it’s set itself inside our flesh. Small roots have grown into our left hand, spreading out from the wound like dark lightning across our skin. The stick-like end of it is protruding from the recently cauterized wound as if… as if the finger was still there, only…
ARTHUR: Only wooden.
(Everything falls quiet. Only the creaking trees remain.)
JOHN: Yes… I don’t know if this is their true desire, or.
ARTHUR: Or a way to say thank you?
(A mysterious piano tune begins to play.)
JOHN: The woods are parting, Arthur. I truly see an exit.
ARTHUR: Let’s go. Now.
JOHN: The tree is growing strong and tall.
ARTHUR: I’ll be happy to never see it again.
(He starts to walk through the underbrush.)
JOHN: I’m not sure if we had to leave something the way we did. I wonder if it more desired for us to take something, like… this?
ARTHUR: The piece of wood in our hand?
ARTHUR: Is it… alive?
JOHN: No. (A pause.) Maybe. It looks as though our hand is diseased in a way. The dark, oak-colored roots are just below the surface, but… I feel like this is what the wood wanted.
ARTHUR: Well. (He sighs.) We gave them more, maybe it’ll earn us some favor.
JOHN: Perhaps. We’re almost out of the woods. The sun is right above despite it having been only in the sky for a few minutes. I can see beyond the trees, it’s... bright. Very bright.
(The sound of roaring wind. A gentle piano melody continues.)
JOHN (perplexed): We’re on… sand. It’s… a desert.
ARTHUR: A desert?
JOHN: Red sand flats as far as I can see.
ARTHUR: Nothing else?
JOHN: No. Not from what I can see. It’s barren. The ground has soft sand on top of broken, cracked earth – as if a lake once existed here. It’s impressively hot.
ARTHUR: Yeah, I can feel it. Maybe the woods…?
(Suspenseful strings rise.)
JOHN (in awe): The woods are receding.
JOHN: Arthur, I can see it now.
JOHN: The woods are small, just far enough for us to not be able to see beyond its farthest tree while within. It’s all moving. The trees, with their black tendril-like roots, crawl up from the outside and scurry along the outskirts of the wood to move the forest.
ARTHUR (shocked): What?
JOHN: We were at its center, moving along the ground as the forest moved around us and underneath us, giving us the impression it was dense and vast when in truth, we’ve been traveling within its center.
ARTHUR: So the lake...?
JOHN: Far behind us. The woods must be heading back there.
ARTHUR: Leaving us here.
ARTHUR: Well. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, I suppose.
(John sighs. He walks.)
JOHN: You said something back there. ‘This too shall pass.’
JOHN: Why did you say that?
ARTHUR: I don’t know, it’s just a comforting thought.
JOHN: It’s written on our lighter.
ARTHUR: Oh, that’s right! (He pulls it out and flicks it.) That’s the one I had with me from... the office, way back when. Crazy to think it’s made it all this way. It’s not even really mine.
ARTHUR: No, found it in an old desk drawer when we moved in.
ARTHUR: Alright. Which direction?
JOHN: I suppose in the direction opposite the wood.
ARTHUR: Alright. (He walks and starts to whistle a familiar tune: ‘You Call It Madness’.)
(END Part 13.)